It is 15 February 2020, Andile reminisces on the Christmas woes and the proverbial ‘January disease’ that were looming on his family in Umzingwane district.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in rural households who literally have nothing to eat. They solely depend on community benevolence, South Africa remittances and Bulawayo dwelling relatives’ transfers. Sadly, 2020 was not that year, the family benefactors are for most rural families are either out of jobs in South Africa or Bulawayo as COVID-19 lockdown forced many companies and the self employed to shut down business. They have no money to send back home. The festive is bleak for many.
Andile Moyo’s family is not spared that Christmas, but life goes on.
For a few, extremely vulnerable, the situation has been much better, an NGO social assistance programme has been distributing food rations enough for the family. Through a Kindernothilfe grant, Hope for a Child In Christ supported such families through a programme titled “Protecting the PsychoSocial Wellbeing of Children during Covid-19”. The programme which successfully fed 2418 individuals between August-October 2020 scaled up the reach to 3000 individuals between December 2020 to February 2021.
In Umzingwane, one of the beneficiaries is Andile Moyo (male, 9 years) who shares his story. We first met him in December:
“My name is Andile Moyo and I am 9 years old. I am currently in grade 1 at Mbembesi primary school. I am so excited that this Christmas we will have plenty to eat.,” he says then.
Andile is a shy young boy who looks down whenever he responds.
He is one of the children in Umzingwane’s ward 19 who were being assisted by HOCIC during this Covid-19 pandemic period.
Being in grade 1 at 9 years sadly shows that he has delayed going to school. In Zimbabwe, the standard age of the first grade is 6 years. Due to COVID-19 lockdown, he has not been to school much since they only opened for 2 months in the first term. He spends much of the time herding the family and neighbours’ livestock.
Since our first encounter, at every distribution day, Andile is seen driving an ox drawn cart which transports his family’s food basket to his home.
“When I am not at school, I am responsible for herding my grandmother’s 6 cattle, my neighbours 10 goats and my other neighbours’ 18 cattle,” he shyly says.
He tells of his daily food ration and how he manages that huge herd of livestock at such an age.
“On a normal day, when there is food, I eat isitshwala and ulude daily for and supper when I come back.
“There is nothing called lunch at home,” he responds when asked what he eats for lunch.
“Most of the times i go herd cattle in the morning before eating and usually come back eating my supper”.
The thought of a 9 year-old boy who spends much of his time herding, with a possibility of having none or a single meal is sombre. It explains Andile’s miniature stature which doesn’t tally his age. His grandmother says that she has been told by nurses that the boy is undernourished. She says Andile used to receive plumpy-nut, a nourishment supplement for children under 5 years who are Moderate and Acutely Malnourished.
“Andile is my daughter’ son. His mother is not feeling well, being the reason why she cannot work for her children. Andile has been very small all along because he was diagnosed MAM positive. He was not eating well when they stayed with their father. His father was abusive to the mother and Andile. He re-married and he said if we do not give him Andile he will not support him with anything. Things have been tough for me, but I still took them in, they are my family.it is better that i keep my grandson so that he won’t be ill-treated by the stepmother,”
Fast forward to 2 months later, when we meet Andile in February 2021, Andile is happy about the assistance they have received so far. He relishes that they had a better Christmas than other families. He says his grandmother will have savings since she did not have to buy food.
“When we receive food rations from HOCIC, I eat isitshwala, beans and chunks, i love that meal”.
“Gogo did not buy food for Christmas last year and in January because HOCIC assisted us. She will use the little money she saved to pay my school fees and buy me a new school uniform when schools open,” now in a more delighted voice, Andile says. His voice has even changed, it sounds more active and echoes energy compared to when we first met him in December 2020.
He hopes that in 2021 things will be normal and he will be able to go back to school. He is not sure whether he will repeat grade 1 or they will proceed to the next grade.
The food assistance to Andile’s family helped his granny save money. His family had enough to eat, having three meals a day. From the food basket they received, he had variety, which satisfied him. He became an active child, confident, and happy. The Andile we met in December 2020 was shy, frail and inactive. The Andile telling his story in February 2021 is a jovial and more talkative one. Food became an agent of boosting his self esteem and stimulating activeness.